Report from the Action for ESOL Manifesto launch – Saturday 3rd March 2012

Action for ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) launched its new manifesto for ESOL on Saturday at UCU Head Office in north London.

A good turnout included MP Heidi Alexander, representatives from the Refugee Council, Migrant Rights Network, NATECLA and other partner organisations, along with ESOL teachers, ESOL researchers and UCU members from FE colleges in and around London, York and the Midlands.

The purpose of the launch was to celebrate the success of the campaign and to look at the new manifesto and how it can be used in future ESOL campaigning. The afternoon started with a celebratory journey through the campaign highlights and the people and protests which brought about the huge success.

A wide-spread grassroots campaign led by students and practitioners, combined with the support and parliamentary lobbying of education organisations such as UCU, NATECLA, NIACE and many MPs around the country, all contributed to an almost total U-Turn on the coalition government’s plans to cut funding for ESOL learners.

Heidi Alexander MP told the launch how she was inspired after meeting students at a local Lewisham community centre and reading letters from students in Lewisham who explained why English was so important to them and why they needed to be able to continue their ESOL classes.

Tish Taylor showed a video made by Reflect ESOL of the fantastic Old Palace Yard demonstration outside parliament on March 24th last year, when ESOL students marched from the protest to hand in a petition to Downing Street with over 20,000 signatures, including Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach and Ken Livingstone.

All speakers celebrated the campaign’s success and the inspiration of all the students round the country who explained powerfully why ESOL matters.

In the 2nd part of the launch, Mel Cooke and Rob Peutrell talked through how the manifesto was written and what the manifesto is about.

Like the campaign itself the manifesto was initiated by practitioners on the ground in a collaborative process and the messages of the manifesto for ESOL centre around the issues faced by migrants, as well as ‘production-line’ teaching, marketisation and labour-market agendas, valuing teachers and their input into curricula, and commitment to consistent funding.

These issues for ESOL are fundamental to how practitioners see what ESOL is and where it should be going. These same issues affect the wider FE sector, and elements of the ESOL manifesto are recognisable in other FE manifestos such as the UCU paper – “Jobs and Education, Regaining the Trust of Young People”.

It’s interesting to see just how much these 2 manifestos have in common, with both calling for:

  • an end to ‘production line’ learning
  • provision that reaches into the community and meets the educational needs of students and communities
  • removal of over-emphasis on exams
  • removal of labour-market agenda
  • promotion of outreach provision
  • multiculturalism in education
  • free provision
  • free provision for asylum seekers
  • an end to marketisation of education
  • a commitment to consistent funding
  • providers across sector working together and not in competition
  • anti-casualisation of teaching staff
  • good access to paid training and development for teachers
  • input by teachers into policy and curriculum development
  • respecting and valuing role of teachers via pay and conditions

Action for ESOL is now looking to the future and will continue in the campaign’s grassroots tradition by involving students in the manifesto as it’s taken forward into the community following Saturday’s launch.

With the threat of impending FE loans plus changes to ESOL and Functional Skills qualifications in September, and the uncertainty of the new Universal Benefits in 2013, ESOL needs now to consider how it can use the success of the campaign and the new manifesto to unite with the issues that face all of Adult, Community and Further Education and survive not just as ESOL but as part of the increasingly vulnerable sector in which it lives.